Gamecocks edge Tide in thriller

Alabama quarterback Tyler Watts had an all-star-type performance, but the Crimson Tide defense couldn't hold off a South Carolina rally and the 15th-ranked Gamecocks came from behind to take a 37-36 win over Bama in Columbia Saturday.

Alabama fell to 2-2 on the season and 2-1 in Southeastern Conference games, while South Carolina remained undefeated at 4-0, including a 3-0 SEC mark.

Alabama will host Texas-El Paso in a non-conference game at Birmingham's Legion Field at 2 p.m. CDT next Saturday. The only television coverage will be through most Alabama cable outlets on a pay-per-view basis.

South Carolina's win over Alabama was the first in Gamecocks' history. Alabama had won the 10 previous games. The outcome prompted part of the near record crowd of 84,100 to pull down the goalposts at the conclusion of the game.

Watts had an outstanding day. He completed 20 of 25 passes for 231 yards with one touchdown and one intercepted. His 80 per cent completion rate is a new Alabama record for 20 or more completions. Jay Parker had completed 76.5 per cent of his passes (26 of 34) vs. Georgia in 1994. Watts also had 22 rushes for 162 yards, the second best rushing performance by an Alabama quarterback behind Steadman Shealy's 190 yards vs. Mississippi State in 1979. His 393 total yards was also second best in Crimson Tide history, behind the 457 yards by Scott Hunter vs. Auburn in 1969.

About the only way Watts could have had a better day is if he could have thrown against the Alabama secondary.

Watts' nine-yard touchdown run -- his second rushing touchdown of the game -- gave Alabama a 36-24 lead with 9:01 to play. However, South Carolina took advantage of Bama's notoriously poor pass defense and used only two and a half minutes to march to a touchdown. The Gamecocks missed the extra point, which would only serve to make their try for the winning point a bit more dramatic. That came after Alabama could use only two minutes on offense, then allowed South Carolina to go 57 yards in barely over a minute. This time the extra point was good. Alabama had one last gasp, but was unable to do anything from its own 20 with 2:13 to play.

South Carolina quarterback Phil Petty burned the Alabama secondary for 19 completions in 33 attempts for 291 yards and three touchdowns. He suffered only one sack and was not intercepted.

Alabama started the game with a nice drive, but had to settle for a 19-yard Neal Thomas field goal when the march stalled at the South Carolina one-yard line. On the kickoff, Gerald Dixon caused a fumble that was recovered by Jason McAddley. However, the offense was unable to take full advantage, again having to settle for a Thomas field goal, this one 29 yards.

The Gamecocks came back with a long field goal early in the second quarter, but Watts' 31-yard pass to Jason McAddley pushed the Tide out to a 13-3 lead. South Carolina answered with a long touchdown pass, and then stopped Bama with an interception on a tipped ball. However, Alabama got another turnover, Charles Jones forcing a fumble and Waine Bacon recovering it at the South Carolina 30. Four plays later Watts rushed in from eight yards out. Just before halftime the Tide had yet another drive inside the South Carolina 10 but slightly mismanaged the clock and had to settle for Thomas' third field goal. That gave Alabama a 23-20 halftime lead.

Even though South Carolina scored quickly in the third quarter, Alabama matched the touchdown with an 11-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Ahmaad Galloway going in from three yards out. The Tide elected to go for two points and missed, leaving Bama ahead 29-17.

Late in the third quarter South Carolina got to within five points with a touchdown. Watts touchdown with nine minutes to play looked like it could have been a winner, but 36 points proved to be too few. South Carolina hit five straight passes to set up a short run for the touchdown that pulled the Gamecocks to within six points, then completed a 37-yard pass that set up a seven-yard pass for the winning score.

Alabama dominated statistically. The Tide had 30 first downs to South Carolina's 17. Bama had 285 yards rushing to the Gamecocks' 68. Alabama total offense was 516, South Carolina 359. While Alabama's offense averaged 6.2 yards per play on the Tide's 83 plays, the Tide defense allowed the Gamecocks 6.3 yards per play on their 57 plays.

Both teams lost two fumbles, Bama two of seven, South Carolina two of four. Alabama was penalized 10 times for 83 yards, South Carolina half that much, five times for 42.

Alabama had almost double South Carolina's possession time, 38:55 to 21:05.

Galloway was Alabama's second-leading rusher with 22 carries for 75 yards. Freddie Milons had eight receptions for 72 yards, McAddley four for 82 yards.


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